Brentford may have missed out on a place in the Premier League at the final hurdle last season, but it has done nothing to slow down their drive towards the top flight.
Losing the play-off final to local rivals Fulham has arguably done as much for their reputation as winning would have, with a collection of well-recruited and well-developed players impressing at Wembley, two of which have since clinched moves to the Premier League themselves.
Such is the Bees’ philosophy, selling Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa for £33m and Said Benrahma to West Ham for a potential £25m is seen not so much as a loss, but as an opportunity to reinvest in more promising young talent; and one of those has been striker Ivan Toney.
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Signed from League One Peterborough for a fee that could reach a club-record £10m, Toney is already the second highest goalscorer in the Championship with 10 from 11 games and recently won the Championship Player of the Month Award.
It is this kind of successful player turnover that has established Brentford’s recruitment model as an example for others and, in discussing the summer-signing of Toney, co-Director of Football Rasmus Ankersen has given an insight into just how much work has gone into developing that reputation.
“We followed him, took a lot of personality references on him, we watched a lot of games and a lot of different people watched him and offered their opinions, and we also look at the data and see what that says about him – so it’s been in the making a long time,” he told Sky Sports News.
“We decided to buy Ivan very early because we knew we were going to sell Watkins and we preferred to sign Ollie’s replacement before we sold him, so we wouldn’t get into a situation – with 14 days left of the window – where everyone knew we had got big money for Ollie, and obviously every time we enquired about a player there would be a 50 per cent premium on the price, so that’s why we decided to go so early on Ivan in the summer.”
Watkins and Benrahma were part of the renowned ‘BMW’ front-three last season with Bryan Mbeumo. Watkins and Benrahma took the best part of a season to integrate into Brentford’s environment before consistently showing their best.
Now that the Bees are targeting automatic promotion, however, and they have larger funds to reinvest, Ankersen says their recruitment philosophy has had to be readjusted to find players who are more likely to hit the ground running immediately – like Toney has.
“Now we’re a club that’s ambitious, that has realistic ambitions about getting promoted, so we cannot wait for our striker to play 46 games before he’s ready,” Ankersen said.
“We need someone who can deliver from day one, and obviously that raises the bar from a recruitment perspective, so that’s why we liked the idea of Ivan having proved himself in League One, which is a good league, and we thought the transition would be relatively smooth for him.
“That’s the difference about where Brentford are now and where we were three or four years ago; we are prepared to pay a bit more for the players that we buy but we also expect a quicker return on investment.
“I think we’re still a selling club but I think, because we’ve been able to raise a lot of funds from player trading, our strategy has now become to recruit better players, pay a bit more for those, but also be able to sell those players more expensively.
“Sometimes you have buy expensive to sell expensive and that’s probably where our strategy from a transfer perspective has been adjusted over the past couple of years.”
What has not changed about the Bees’ recruitment ethos, however, is their thoroughness; with a broad scouting network covering the more obscure leagues of Europe and beyond.
Head of recruitment Lee Dykes has been leading that network for the last 18 months and, although he is proud of their successes, he believes they are under increasing pressure to beat rivals to emerging talent, now that other clubs are looking to what Brentford are doing.
“You’ve just got to find the players earlier than you did the last time,” he told Sky Sports News. “I don’t think it’s getting harder, it’s getting more challenging because maybe a lot of football clubs are now looking at different markets from what they used to.
“We choose to search high and low around the globe to get these players and we’ll continue to do that, but we have a lot of top people in our recruitment department, with top knowledge, who can see these things early and that’s the key, can we see it early and move early?
“It’s a challenge that everyone relishes. You can smile at the fact that you’re selling players for big amounts and replacing them with players for lower amounts, but we’ve got to be professional about it – there’s a job to do. I always say to my department ‘we have to be accountable for our decisions’, and recruitment is a big part of what Brentford are deemed to be successful at.
“But recruitment is only the start of the player-building process. Everyone has to pull together to continue to build a player over the next one, two or maybe even three years. Once we’ve signed a player there’s already a development plan that’s been constructed, with all departments contributing to that.”
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